The California Water Blog recently created a list of “dangerous ideas in California water”. Here are a few additional dangerous ideas in CA water management.
- That conventional growth predictions are immutable and will pose new demand that we must meet. There are a few predictions for the mid-century that I hear often. The top two are: ‘California will have 60 million people’ and ‘the rising middle class in Asia will demand meat’. Neither of those are immutable. Future tastes (and sources) for meat are a matter of choice, which may not go in a predictable way. Another possibility is that in two generations, people will simply not get to eat the meat they prefer. Population size is subject to people’s optimism about the climate future and financial pressures, which are both pretty grim right now. JFleck writes about de-coupling, in which cities grow without requiring additional water. Predictions of inevitable growth pressures are not reasons for us to further damage the CA environment to develop more supplies for humans.
- That water markets are a neutral, non-coercive way to reallocate water supplies. Water markets are only a neutral way to allocate water supplies if every participant in the market starts with an equal amount of water and wealth. When that is not the case, water markets do not represent the optimal distribution of water, utils and money. Rather, a water market is a way for the already wealthy to monopolize a good that once belonged to everyone. Advocating for water markets is advocating for the currently wealthy to get more water supplies. Water markets are not non-coercive either; remember that water gets sold after the three Ds (debt, divorce and death). I further note that every single water market advocate that I’ve ever known of is in the wealth class that has the economic leverage to gain water supplies by them.
- That California should grow all profitable foodstuffs. Growing nearly any food takes about 3af/acre of land. Not all foods, even the profitable ones, have equal nutritional and societal value. Some foods have tremendous cultural value; some are facially ludicrous (sudan grass for luxury Japanese beef*). The prevailing myths are that all agriculture produces valuable stuffs; that “profitable” is the right way to decide if they are valuable; that having an agricultural sector is a toggle -we either have it or don’t; that world demand for food creates an obligation for California to use all available water to feed an insatiable demand. We could instead use values (i.e. varied and nutritious, primarily plant-based, diet for all Californians) to set the extent of Californian ag water use.